Voices on Project Management

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Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with--or even disagree with--leave a comment.

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Cameron McGaughy
Marian Haus
Lynda Bourne
Lung-Hung Chou
Bernadine Douglas
Kevin Korterud
Conrado Morlan
Peter Tarhanidis
Vivek Prakash
Christian Bisson
Cyndee Miller
David Wakeman
Jen Skrabak
Mario Trentim
Shobhna Raghupathy
Rex Holmlin
Roberto Toledo
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Wanda Curlee

Recent Posts

Project Managers As Persuaders

The Importance of ACCURATE Communication

3 Tips for Training New Team Members

Don’t Forget About Human Resources

Fast Forward: A Peek at Project Management in 2017

Viewing Posts by Lynda Bourne

The Importance of ACCURATE Communication

Categories: Ethics

by Lynda Bourne

 

A number of recent examples from the corporate arena illustrate that being oblivious to unethical or illegal behaviour happening within an organization is not an acceptable excuse for allowing it to occur. Leaders will be held responsible—even when they claim to have no knowledge of the situation.

In a recently reported case, a very senior director was found to be in breach of his duties by the Federal Court of Australia because he didn’t make appropriate inquiries when alerted to the possibility of illegal actions taking place within his organization.

This is far from a unique example. The people governing your organization are coming under increasing pressure to know what is going on at every level — and to take appropriate actions as necessary.

What does this mean for the average person working in a project management office (PMO) or on a project team? Because projects and programs are becoming increasingly important to the development and growth of organizations, information about the performance of projects and programs now plays a critical role in the governance of the organization. This means you are responsible for ensuring the information delivered to executives is accurate.

But you cannot fulfil this obligation alone. It takes a team effort.

Ensuring the right information reaches the right levels of the organization involves creating the right governance systems and structures. These systems operate best in a culture of openness and accountability — and require leadership from the highest levels of the organization to operate well.

Project professionals can support these systems, but we cannot do a lot to create the necessary culture. We can, however, have a major influence on how information is created and disseminated in the governance system.

The key facets we can control are interlinked and interdependent, and are summed up in the acronym ACCURATE:

Available: The project information has to be accessible in various appropriate formats to all levels of management.

Complete: The project information needs to provide a full picture of the current and forecasted situation.

Concise: Executives are busy people—excessive detail does not help. They need to understand the bottom line.

Understandable: Project management is full of technical jargon. While we may understand the difference between EAC and VAC, executives will not. Communicate in business language.

Relevant: Just because it’s important to the project team doesn’t mean it’s important to the overall organization. Communicate information that is relevant to the achievement of business objectives.

Auditable: If asked, you need to be able to provide the source of the information and the processing steps taken to consolidate and communicate the information.

Timely: Markets operate in a 24-hour news cycle. Important information needs to be communicated immediately (you cannot wait for the monthly report).

Explainable: Project professionals need to be available to explain the information and help executives understand the consequences (typically this is a key role of an effective PMO).

Just as witnesses in court promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, project professionals have an ethical responsibility to make sure the information they are communicating meets this standard and is also ACCURATE.

How can you work toward ACCURATE communication in the New Year?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: January 11, 2017 07:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

From Data to Wisdom: Creating & Managing Knowledge

Categories: Communication

By Lynda Bourne

The effective management of knowledge has received some extra attention in PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Sixth Edition (to be published in 2017).

And it should—it’s an important area.

While there are many aspects to effective knowledge management, in this post, I want to take a look at the foundation: transforming data into wisdom from a project controls perspective.

As astronomer Clifford Stoll once said, Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom.”

He had a point—information changes in character as it is processed. Consider work performance data, the raw observations and measurements made during the execution of project work. For example, knowing that an activity is 25 percent complete on its own has little direct value.

Basic information starts to be created out of this data when it is analysed and assessed. For example, an analysis of this data might reveal the activity should be 75 percent complete and, as a consequence, is running three days late.

This information then becomes useful when it is placed in context and integrated with other relevant bits of information. For example, a report might explain that the activity is on the critical path and the delay has a direct effect on the predicted project completion date.

Converting that useful information into knowledge means communicating it to the right people. For example, when someone reads the report, he or she becomes aware that the activity is running late.

Understanding that knowledge requires the person to interpret and appreciate the consequences of the delay. Interpreting one piece of information to create understanding can happen in many different people’s minds (lots of people may read the report) and each will derive very different insights from the same set of facts. One person may see the delay as relatively minor, while another may think it’s critically important. Understanding is based on the frame through which each person views the fact.

Finally, using the person’s understanding of the situation to inform wise decisions and actions is completely dependent on the capabilities, attitude and experience of the individual.

 

Who Controls that Conversion of Data?

PMBOK® Guide Fig. 3.5

As shown in the extract from the PMBOK® Guide Fifth Edition above, project controls professionals drive the conversion of data into useful information. By using work performance reports to communicate effectively, they can actively encourage the transition of information into knowledge in key people’s minds, and by providing context and advice they can positively influence the development of that person’s understanding to support wise decision making (manifested in the “project management plan updates”).

But achieving this effect requires more than simply collecting and processing data. It requires analysis, insight and effective communication skills.

How effectively do you transform raw data into useful information that helps your key stakeholders make wise decisions?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: December 05, 2016 05:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Are You a Decisive or Divisive Decision Maker?

Categories: Communication

By Lynda Bourne

The way decisions are made can lead to division and discord—or to understanding and commitment. What’s your style?

The Divisive Decision Maker

Divisive decision makers give the appearance of strength and speed.  Every issue is quickly reviewed by the manager (even when they don’t necessarily need to be involved) and a decision is decreed. The manager then expects everyone to comply with the outcome; dissent and alternatives are not tolerated (to do so would be a sign of weakness).

The problems with divisive decision-making include:

  • The assumption that, in all things, the leader knows best.
  • There is a lack of consensus—people are expected to do what they’re told.
  • There is no commitment from the rest of the team to implement the decision.
  • There is a high likelihood the decision will stop being implemented when the manager looks away to focus on the next important decision.

Unfortunately, in many situations, being seen as an assertive decision maker is confused with being an effective decision-maker.

The Decisive Decision Maker

Decisive decision makers recognize that making a decision is only one step along the road to a good outcome. They know they need others to collaborate if the decision is going to achieve the intended result and actually stick. Rather than rushing, they spend time thinking through the decision-making process.

Considerations for the decisive decision maker include:

  1. How urgent is the decision? As with the divisive decision maker, decisive decision makers know that a prompt decision is better than a delayed decision. And, in an emergency, the best option is for the decision maker to issue an order and use his or her authority to enforce the decision. However, the vast majority of decisions do not need an immediate answer (even if a senior manager is asking for one “NOW!”). And in those instances, the decisive decision maker spends time thinking through the best options to achieve the outcome he or she would like.
  2. Does the leader need to make the decision or does the leader need to facilitate a decision-making process? Unlike divisive decision makers, decisive decision makers do not need to be the fountain of all decisions. They let the right people make the decision and let those people take credit for the work. They use their authority to support an effective process, taking the actual decision-making role only when needed to get the best outcome.
  3. What type of decision is being made? Decisive decision-makers understand there are various types of decisions (ranging from simple problems to dilemmas and beyond) and use this knowledge to determine the best decision-making process for each situation.

Decisive decision making allows the leader to use the decision-making process to reinforce the team and build commitment to the overall project and to making the specific decision stick.

 

Also, because the decisive decision maker focuses on achieving the best outcomes, they are better positioned to review and adapt any decision if later or better information shows that an improvement or change is desirable. (At the same time, however, decisive decision makers know the difference between dithering—the hallmark of people who cannot make decisions—and making prudent changes to a decision based on new circumstances.)

A divisive decision maker, on the other hand, tends to see any change to a decision they have made as a threat to their credibility as a decision maker.

What tips do you have for dealing with divisive decision makers?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: November 30, 2016 03:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

How to Influence Others

Categories: Stakeholder

by Lynda Bourne

I recently wrote a post about influencing without authority, which looked at building credibility and “currency” to trade for the support you need. Those ideas buy you a seat at the table. This post looks at ways you can influence situations to move everyone to a satisfactory outcome once you’re at that table.

Smart influencers recognise it is often futile to work against powerful resistance. Rather than fighting the situation (and making it worse) they look for subtle ways to influence the outcome. Key methods of smart influencers include:

  • Being open and aware. In stressful situations, effective influencers slow down, take a breath and observe before taking action. When we focus on our breathing we relax, which increases our perception, can provide a new perspective and heightens empathy.
  • Using movement to trigger an attitude change. Suggest, for example, going downstairs for a coffee. It may open up other ways of “moving together.”
  • Using the space around you to influence attitudes—both in formal meetings and in your own office. Creating the right ambience will help you influence others. Things to consider include:
    • A meeting table is divided into personal zones. These zones are maintained zealously. Make sure you don’t inadvertently cross the lines.
    • Be aware of personal space and seating hierarchies. Rather than confronting the “opposition” across a rectangular meeting table, consider setting up a round table where everyone can work together.
  • Using collective language. “We” is almost always better than “you.”
  • Avoiding closed questions. It is easier to avoid getting a “no” in the first place than to change a “no” into a “yes” later. Consider these three examples:
    • “Do you like my suggestion?” This is a closed question and if the answer is “no” you have nowhere to go.
    • “You do not appear to like my suggestion, why?” This is better. You now have a conversation starter but the ‘why’ has negative implications. It may seem as though you are blaming the other person for disagreeing with you.
    • “How could my suggestion be improved to make it acceptable to you?” This opens up a whole new paradigm. If the person makes some suggestions that are incorporated into the overall proposal, the proposal becomes “our suggestion.”
  • Focusing on what you want to achieve. By openly stating what you want to achieve, you lead by example and create an opportunity for others to do the same.
  • Keeping body language in mind. For most people, the reaction to body language is subconscious. It can help or hinder your attempts to influence. Focus on:
    • Paying attention. This makes the other person feel valued and is likely to enhance your ability to influence the situation.
    • Your hands. Gestures can have very different interpretations in different cultures.
    • Not overreacting to body language. It is a complex language and generally reacting to superficial signs can cause more harm than good. But paradoxically, your subconscious reading of the whole situation will often be accurate.
    • Not faking body language (unless you are a professional actor). To get yours right you need to have the right attitude first and then let nature do its bit. For more information on this, read Influence: Body Language Silent Influencing by Michael Nir.

The ability to influence people is a key leadership skill. One way to acquire the skill is to watch others in a group situation and see how the people who are influencing attitudes and actions are behaving. Then try emulating their behaviours in your next meeting.

How effective are you at influencing others?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: September 13, 2016 08:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Are You Practicing Sustainable Project Management?

Categories: Social Responsibility

By Lynda Bourne

PMI members and credential holders have an obligation to act sustainably. PMI’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct asks us “to make decisions and take actions based on the best interests of society, public safety, and the environment.”  

The problem we all face is working out how to achieve this aspiration! 

The concept of sustainability (or the “triple bottom line”) is fairly well understood in business. It involves balancing economic interests with the needs of external stakeholders (society) and the environment:

The “economic” aspect of project management directly aligns with effective project management—delivering the project on time, on budget and with the required quality. This basic objective cannot be achieved without engaging effectively with at least part of your overall stakeholder community. So far, so good! 

The challenge project managers and their teams face is understanding how they can move beyond the traditional bottom line to take into consideration the needs of society and the environment. What do these terms mean and how can a project manager or team member make a difference?

Fortunately, there is a growing range of resources available to help us focus on the things that matter so we can make a difference.

 

Sustainable Goals

The starting point: the sustainable development goals that all members of the United Nations (U.N.) have signed up to achieve. On 25 September 2015, the U.N. General Assembly formally adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It comprises 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and 169 associated targets.

Here are the goals:

Obviously, no project manager can tackle all 17 goals, let alone the 169 specific targets. But every project team can look through the goals and targets and find three or four that they can strive to achieve.

A couple of examples:

  • Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. Target 5: substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse. Focus on this and you not only help the environment, you can also improve profitability!
  • Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Target 8: Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to empower women. Here’s a question: How can your team support working mothers, given that child care is still primarily undertaken by women?

Get ready: As governments and corporations move to achieve SDGs, trillions of dollars will be invested in projects to implement changes. 

Win-Win-Win Situations

The world’s governments and a growing number of corporations are increasingly focused on sustainability. Organizations are beginning to recognize they cannot survive if the society or environment they operate within fails.

Many aim to balance the three elements of sustainability to create win-win-win outcomes—meaning that positive social and environmental outcomes drive positive economic outcomes.

So what are the opportunities for project practitioners?

First, position yourself to take advantage of the demand for project managers that the pursuit of SDGs will create over the next few years. 

Second, practicing sustainable project management allows us to fulfill our ethical responsibilities to “make decisions and take actions based on the best interests of society, public safety, and the environment.”

How can your team help achieve the U.N. goals one project at a time? 

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: July 31, 2016 06:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)
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